Ho, ho, ho, good friends. Welcome to PART ONE of a two part BookNotes. Tomorrow we’ll do another, highlighting other children’s books. We are able to send these out right away and they will easily get to you with a week or less. No worries, if you get on this quickly. What fun.
Here I will list 22 children’s picture books that we think are extraordinary that are not, at least not at first glance, particularly religious or Bible-based. Most have wonderful themes and point towards faithful values, but are selected here because of their artfulness and/or sure delight.
Tomorrow I will list more that are overtly Biblical and obviously Christian. Stay tuned for PART TWO. Look for that BookNotes next.
All are 20% off. You can click on the link at the very end which takes you to our store’s secure order form page. Thanks for sending orders to us here in Pennsylvania.
Yellow Dog Blues Alice Faye Duncan and Christ Raschka (Eerdmans) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
Selected a few weeks ago as one of the top ten children’s books in the country by the New Yorker and the New York Times, this could end up with a Caldecott. The art is ingenious, all stitched, and tells the story of the road-trip down Highway 61 looking for a runaway dog. Aunt Jessie picks up Bo Willie in her pink Cadillac and together they end up in juke joints and tamale stands, hearing the music of B.B. King and Muddy Waters.
This is a “boogie-woogie journey along the Mississippi Blues Trail” with swinging free verse. The publisher says it is a “soulful fable about what happens when the blues grabs you and holds on tight.” Wow.
We Are Better Together Bill McKibben, illustrated by Stevie Lewis (Henry Holt) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
You may recall my rave review early last fall, energetically. recommending Bill McKibben’s The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened. Near the end of that survey of his decades thinking about patriotism, Christianity, and the rise of the suburbs (and climate change) he tells about his newest organization which invites older folks to get involved with the younger set for meaningful multi-generational service to the common good.
This kids book seems connected to that and, in any case, is a delight, reminding us that this human thing is a “team sport” and that, working together, we can do so much to care for and better our planet. It is eloquent, lovely, with vivid illustrations, insisting that “when we work together we can do incredible things” This is a book of fresh ideas, good hope, huge possibility. We are better together, after all.
I Hate Borsch! Yevgenia Nayberg (Eerdmans) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This edgy/cool book was designed in Europe before the Russians invaded Ukraine and conversations about borsch became more popular throughout the world. By the time Eerdmans Books for Young Readers picked it up, the war had started, and now that we have it we think it is a great way to remind our little ones about cultural differences, food and recipes, and the passions for local cuisine that are so evident in this fascinating part of the world.
Here’s the set up:
All Ukrainians are supposed to love borsch — but what if you hate the red stuff? A young girl despises Eastern Europe’s most beloved soup, and not even the grandmothers of Kiev can persuade her to change her mind.
But when she immigrates to the United States, American food leaves her feeling empty. Maybe that disgusting beet soup deserves another chance…
This is “imaginatively illustrated with splashes of borsch-bright red,” this book really tries to get at the complicated experience of rejecting and/or embroils one’s culture. It is witty and poignant.
Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long (Viking) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
Young Harvard grad Amanda Gorman became an overnight sensation after delivering a poem at the 47th Presidential inauguration and within a year she had published a collection volume and this, a children’s edition of one of her famous poems.
“I can hear change humming in its loudest, proudest song. I don’t fear change coming, and so I sing along”
Loren Long is a skilled and respected illustrator having done the great Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama and Love by Matt de la Pena. Not to mention his own Otis series.
A Door Made for Me Tyler Merritt, illustrated by Lonnie Ollivierre (Worthy Kids) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
I almost wish I didn’t have to list books like this (and we have a lot) that highlight the unique problems of racism and remind everyone that kids of color have very special worth and dignity. Based on a true story experience by the author (the writer of I Take My Coffee Black) it is about doors that open and doors that close (sometimes right in your face.) Two boys (one white and one black) have had a successful day fishing and they are showing off their catch to various other (white) kids in the neighborhood. Many doors will not open, and young Tyler is hurt and confused.
“You are loved. And you are perfect just as you are,” says an elder to him, finally. “Another person’s hate doesn’t change that. You’ll find a door that’s right for you.”
Building An Orchestra of Hope: How Favio Chavez Taught Children to Make Music from Trash Carmen Oliver, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (Eerdmans) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
As real life hero from Paraguay Favio Chavez says, “The world sends us garbage. We send back music.”
The story is set in one of those slums where folk forage through mountainous garbage dumps searching for anything of value. Chavez brought his classical musical instruments with hopes of teaching the children but, of course, there simply were not enough instruments to go around. And here the ingenuity and fun begin. Yep they make instruments from what is thrown away, and the illustrations are fascinating.
That this is a true story makes this terrific book that much more inspiring. There is a great resource list of videos and articles in the back, and the book shares this:
In April 2018 the Recycled Orchestra of Cater participated in a charity concert in Spain and earned money to help build a community health center in Banado Sur. They have also worked to bring more art and culture into the area with mosaics splashed on building walls. During the COVID – 19 pandemic, the orchestra supported families with food, aid, and computer equipment so kids could focus on their schoolwork.
As Fabio has said, “Music is a bridge.” This book is, too. Spread the word!
Dream Big for Kids Bob Goff and Lindsey Goff Viducich (Tommy Nelson) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
Yes, this one is by a gospel-guy, Bob Goff, and his talented school-teacher daughter, and it mentions God, but it is so wildly appropriate for nearly any family that we wanted to list it here. I wonder how Favio Chavez (see above) got the idea to “dream big” and start a “recycled orchestra”? It sounds like the kind of thing Bob Goff would tell in his upbeat and inspiring books.
Well, this is an invitation to kids to be those kind of innovators, to get in touch with their ambitions and hopes and go for it! As Bob and Lindsey ask,
What if you were created for something so special, so amazing, so big, that you could change the world?
And so, this colorful collection of inspirational thoughts drawn from Bob’s big-person book (Dream Big) carries kids into that place of embracing creativity and purpose and service and goodness. What enthusiastic fun.
The Lantern House Erin Napier, illustrated by Adam Crest (Little Brown) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
I love this book. The charming author is the co-host of the hit TV show Home Town (and co-author, with her husband, Make Something Good Today: A Memoir.) Their show documents small town achievements and renewal, how they use their entrepreneurial passions to enhance local places. Growing out of their memoir about their love of small towns in the American South and their work on the show comes this lovely, lovely, children’s book which is described as “the quintessential celebration of home.”
Get this: the book is told from the viewpoint of the soulful house that so enjoys the family who builds a little fence and plants flowers and has children playing (“piano in my living room.”) The house worries about its windows growing dark and yet will “wait and dream of a family that will love me again. I will wait for the next story to unfold within, and for someone new to call me “home.””
Oh my, this is lyrical and lovely and the pictures are vibrant and touching. Very, very nice.
Here: The Dot We Call Home Laura Alary, illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund (Paraclete Press) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This is a great book with simple but endearing illustrations (the illustrator and cartoonist studied at The Animation Workshop in Denmark and lives in Copenhagen.) The child in the story finds clues that there were others who lived in her house before she did and that gets her wondering and thinking about those who lived here on Earth before we did. Her sense of home is touching even as it expands through time and space. What a big-hearted perspective. And then she zooms back, realizing she has certain responsibilities, to care for her particular place, here and now.
List to these to very astute reviewers:
In Here: The Dot We Call Home, Laura Alary reminds us that home is the daily spaces we inhabit, the history we are a part of, and the universe that holds us. In this book, she beautifully weaves humanity into relationship with the creatures around us and the Earth herself, reminding us that while we can’t fix all the problems we encounter, we can be present to the life we’ve been given. That is enough. I’m so grateful for this book and what it will teach kids and adults alike about how to practice kinship and belonging. — Kaitlin Curtice, author of Native
Laura Alary’s The Dot We Call Home, teaches children to be co-sustainers in a real place, right where they are. What could be more important, loving, or more human than that? — Randy Woodley, author of Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth
The Book That Kibo Wrote Hariana Ruiz Johnson (Eerdmans) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
Speaking of building bridges, this book, about a book, is one we just love that shows how words and the printed page can help people connect and learn to share their stories.
Kibo the Rhino sits under the acacia tress writing a story about home. His neighbor Naki reads his words and binds them into a book. (Who knew African animals could do book bindery?) She takes it to the city where the book passes from hand to hand, from friend to new friend and, well, one thing leads to another. As they put it, it moves on, “inspiring new creations and good conversations”
The back cover asks, “Where will Kibos book go next, and what will it spark for each new reader?”
The Greatest Thing: A Story About Buck O’Neil Kristy Nerstheimer, illustrated by Christian Paniagua (The Little Fig) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
This is an outstanding, truly wonderful children’s nonfiction book about the great Negro League ball player Buck O’Neil. His story is remarkable, even as he ended up with the Chicago Cubs in the late 1950s, the first professional black baseball coach, in the majors. He was an eternal optimist and faced huge obstacles starting as a boy with one team and ending up with the legendary Kansas City Monarchs. He is one of the most revered players in the country, honored and beloved. The author is an energetic writer for the Kansas Historical Society; the fabulous author is an alumnus of the Pratt School of Design in NYC.
Room for Everyone Naaz Khan, illustrated by Mercy Lopez (Atheneum Books/ Simon & Schuster) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This is one of my favorite picture books of the year with so much action, so much motion, so much drama, and so much rhyming fun. It is about a daladala which rumbles and roars as Muse and Dada head off to the shore. Naaz says in an afterword that Room for Everyone was inspired by his own “fantastically fun daladala ride from Stone Town to Nungwi Beach, in Zanzibar.” Zanzibar, he explains, “is a beautiful archipelago (a group of islands) and a part of the country of Tanzania. He explains about the many languages and cultures (and the music, art, crafts, architecture, languages and foods) in Zanzibar.
“On the daladala,” he explains,”you can hear Zanzabaris speaking Swahili, a Bantu-based language s with some elements of Arabic.”
The minibus keeps stopping to pick up more people as the conductor helps more and more people join the trip. It’s a blast and very, very colorful. There’s even a little glossary in the back.
Apple and Magnolia Laura Gehl, illustrated by Patricia Metola (Flyaway Books) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
This book is about, well, it’s about a lot of things, but at the heart is an unusual friendship. It is eccentric and creative and the pastel art grows on you as you see more and more happening in the scribbly, artful pages.
I am sure you’ve heard of great popular science books like The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben which how trees communicate with one another and actually help one another. This takes that notion seriously (playfully?) and suggests that these two trees are best friends. The little girl (Britta) just knows it.
As Magnolia’s branches start to droop, Britta wonders if there is anything she — or Apple — can do. Wow. What an allusive and provocative book.
Magnolia Flower Zora Neal Hurston, adapted by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Loveis Wise (Amistad) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
This oversized hardback is one of the most plush books of the season, a beautifully illustrated volume by a renowned designer from Washington DC. (She has done two other acclaimed children’s books, The People Remember and Ablaze with Color.) Kendi is a National Book Award-winning author, who teaches at Boston University. He obviously knows Zora Neal Hurston’s work, novelist, folklorist and anthropologist of the Harlem Renaissance that she was.
This graciously done adaption of a 1925 Hurston story was described well by the prestigious Kirkus Review in one of their fairly rare “starred” reviews:
A powerful example of Black and Native resistance — an aspect of history that far too often goes undiscussed. Wise’s earth-toned, opalescent illustrations make the trees, water, and flowers feel just as key to the tale as the humans. The excellent marriage between lyrical text and stunning visuals makes for a moving, memorable story. An artfully rendered tale of life and love that also conveys an essential but often overlooked chapter in U.S. history.
Publisher’s Weekly notes that:
Digital illustrations from Wise make for a bountiful, nature-centered accompaniment to this romance set against the changing landscape of freedom for Black and Indigenous peoples.
Letters from Bear Gauthier David, illustrated by Marie Caudry (Eerdmans) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This is another of these rather curious, thoughtful, European titles that Eerdmans has picked up, putting it out here to much acclaim. This is a series of heart-felt, poignant letters that a bear writes to his bird friend and it tells the tale of his journey across the globe to find her. Badger and Fox and Beaver are going to be thinking of Bear, but there is great hope since Bird migrated and Bear is going to find Bird. This is very special, unique, poignant.
There’s a touch of O. Henry here and yet there is great hope for these star-crossed lovers. Can they connect at long last? What a story — especially for anyone who misses someone and who may need encouragement to write letters. The art is nearly wild, almost with hints of the Romantic era, art deco and the like in some scenes.
Polly and the Screen Time Overload Betsy Childs Howard, illustrated by Samara Hardy (Crossway) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
This is a simple tale with playful, goofy pictures that kids will like. The story tells of a little girl who goes to stay with her grandparents on a farm and yet is distracted by her constant use of her screen device (called, in the story, an iTab.) In one scene she wants to show her Grammy pictures on line of a horse when, in fact, there is a real horse in the barn waiting for the little girl to visit. Polly comes to her senses, of course, and learns much about a balance of screen time and more essential, in-person experiences. There is a Bible text on the back cover (1 Corinthians 10:23) but that’s the only indication that the author offers a God-influenced viewpoint. It’s a good morality tale, needed for nearly all children these days. The “Note to Parents” at the end is helpful and wise. Kudos to Crossway.
Liberty’s Civil Rights Road Trip Michael Waters, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (Flyaway Books) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
This is a great story as Liberty goes on a trip through history. I am sure you have heard of (and maybe even have gone on) a civil rights pilgrimage or educational trip. This delightful — if serious at times — book tells the true story of Liberty and her friend Abdullah and their families heading across the Southland. First stop is Jackson, Mississippi and then they go to Glendora, Memphis, Birmingham, Montgomery, and finally Selma, for a march across the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge.
This is a great way to teach about the people, places, and stories that transformed history and invites readers to, as it says on the flyleaf, “be courageous as they work together to make the country better for all.” Who knows, maybe the adults reading this with the children will learn something too, or be newly inspired.
Good People Everywhere Lynea Gillen, illustrated by Kristina Swarner (Three Pebbles Press) $15.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79
We have celebrated this simple book before and it seems so interesting for little ones to be reminded that all over the world people are doing good things and that there are “beautiful, caring people in their world.” Each of these pages delightfully unfolds with endearing examples and vibrant illustrations to inspire children to grow into grateful and giving people.
This won a “Moonbeam Children’s Book Award” and a “Teacher’s Choice Award” from Learning Magazine. Nice.
Cheer: A Book to Celebrate Community Uncle Ian Aurora, illustrated by Natalia Moore (Flowerpot Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
I love this book. As it says on the back cover, “Hooray! Invite your little one to follow along with this adorable story that is sure to make them cheer!”
If not cheer, at least understand a bit more about the network of people, organizations, and public servants who help create a flourishing community. This is fun and funny, cute and touching as it invites kids to cheer for grandparents, moms and dads, various family members, and others — people who pick up the trash, teachers, principals, janitors, school bus drivers, librarians, scout or squad leaders, teammates. The author is a hoot and this simple rhyme is lots of fun. Simple, but very highly recommended.
We Are Still Here: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know Tracie Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This author/illustrator team worked on another book we stock called We Are Grateful: Otsaligeliga; Traci was born and raised (and still lives in) the Cherokee Nation and has written tons of Native and indigenous work, from poems to Indian youth books to AIYLA winners. She also has a law degree.
The device this colorful and energetic book uses is simple and fun: each two-page spread shows a “presentation” offered by a youth during Indigenous Peoples Day Presentations, with each young person doing showing his or her project. After each informative sharing of good information, there is often a setback calling for new confidence for the struggle. Each pages ends with the refrain, “We Are Still Here!” What an educational and inspirational read.
A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human Matt Forrest Esenwine, illustrated by Andre Colin (Beaming Books) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
I’ve got a number of opinions about this colorful and kind book, but I will keep it brief. It shows (with some well-placed wit) how being a human being can be tricky; it reminds children that there will be joy and anger, sadness and gladness, good times and bad. It moves towards several virtues. (When mentioning the Golden Rule, it says it has worked well for thousands of years. “As rules go, it’s a keeper.” Ha!) It suggests that families are diverse (and shows same-sex parents) and is generally just a wonderfully caring, very simple guide to being a decent person. There are ‘pro-tips’ about how to take steps to practice things like self control or the habit of forgiveness. It’s very well done and ends with a grand invitation to love. Hooray for that.
My one concern — for what it’s worth — is that it doesn’t suggest that yearning for a sense of meaning (let alone the deepest questions that matter most, like “Is there a God? and “Why are we here?” and “Why is there sadness?) is a normal, human trait. It’s a pretty big weakness (and awkward, given that it is released by a religious publisher.) There are plenty of other resources to help you have the most human conversations of all with kids but it would have been nice to have some hint about spirituality or the human quest for meaning here in this “beginners guide to being human.”
Outside Inside LeUyen Pham (Roaring Brook Press) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
I get choked reading this — it has happened twice now — and I so appreciate the good, simple writing, the interesting, detailed art illustrations, and the clarity about why, just a few years ago, almost everybody “went inside.” Outside some people had to work, but most went indoors, where we grew and changed (as did the animals and everything outside.)
This book is a nuanced and compassionate recollection which explains to children, yet again, why we were quarantining during the worst of the pandemic, and both celebrating and lamenting how a few years passed, mostly “inside.” I am sure this is more important than some may think and it is very well done.
LuYyen Pham is a world-renowned children’s book creator and Caldecott Honor winner.
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No, COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. And it’s still bad. And with flu and new stuff spreading, many hospitals are overwhelmed. It’s important to be particularly aware of how risks we take might effect the public good. It is complicated for us, so we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family, staff, and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.
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